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For centuries Lhasa has been a place of pilgrimage, an impossibly remote city of monastic cities, arcane Tantric rites and the rule of the reincarnated Dalai Lamas. These days Tibetan pilgrims still shuffle in awe around monastic chapels heavy with the smell of yak butter and incense but modern Lhasa is also a city of tensions. The Tibetan population seems besieged in its shrinking traditional quarter as Han Chinese migrants and tourists pour into the rapidly transforming city. The old town's Jokhang Temple remains the spiritual heart of Tibet, surrounded by a web of traditional whitewashed houses and alleyways, but the rest of the city ...

For centuries Lhasa has been a place of pilgrimage, an impossibly remote city of monastic cities, arcane Tantric rites and the rule of the reincarnated Dalai Lamas. These days Tibetan pilgrims still shuffle in awe around monastic chapels heavy with the smell of yak butter and incense but modern Lhasa is also a city of tensions. The Tibetan population seems besieged in its shrinking traditional quarter as Han Chinese migrants and tourists pour into the rapidly transforming city. The old town's Jokhang Temple remains the spiritual heart of Tibet, surrounded by a web of traditional whitewashed houses and alleyways, but the rest of the city resembles a modern Chinese city, complete with plastic palm trees and bustling department stores. The journey to and from Lhasa is one of its highlights, whether on the impressive but controversial train line (the world's highest) or along the spectacular mountain roads from Sichuan and Kathmandu. Current travel regulations mean that you'll have to be content to travel here as part of an obligatory escorted tour.

Bradley Mayhew
About the Expert

Bradley Mayhew is the author of more than 25 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, including Central Asia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Jordan, and is coauthor of the Odyssey guide to Uzbekistan.

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Bradley Mayhew for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    April to September, avoiding the first week of May and October